Kearns upgrades are planted to help area grow out of ‘the weed patch’

Development • Improving street’s appearance is important to emerging community center.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Michael Jensen, Salt Lake County Councilman, District 2 speaks at groundbreaking event Friday Nov. 6 for "Gateway to Kearns," a vacant stretch of land along 5400 South between 4200 and 4400 West. It will be converted into a new landscaped parkway and urban orchard.

Kearns • Two projects designed to improve the quality of life in this western-valley community formally got off the ground Friday.

Salt Lake County turned dirt on the "Gateway to Kearns," a four-block-long stretch of land on the south side of 5415 South that will be converted from a weed patch into a parkway including the county's first urban orchard with apples, peaches, pears and cherries.

A few blocks to the south, the old Kearns American League baseball fields will be transformed into an affordable housing complex for 20 families in the "Field of Dreams" project. Wells Fargo Bank presented an $82,500 check Friday to help Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity get that project rolling.

Kearns Community Council President Paula Larsen attended functions 30 minutes apart at separate locations heralding these community-building events — and she couldn't have been happier.

She said she was relieved that county Township Services and Parks and Recreation officials were sprucing up the long strip between 4200 West and 4600 West, land that was in forlorn shape for several years after the Utah Department of Transportation widened 5415 South.

"I'd been nervous watching the weeds grow. We called it the Kearns weed patch," Larsen said. "Now we'll see it grow into the Kearns parkway."

She also appreciated seeing new life being stirred into the ballfields, where she had spent many a day watching games from the bleachers before Kearns American League fell apart and the fields deteriorated into a haven for illicit activities.

"It's awesome to see it come back full circle," Larsen said. "This will be a great addition to our community. I welcome [Habitat for Humanity] here and the people who will take possession of the homes."

Ed Blake, Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity executive director, said those people will invest 225 hours of "sweat equity" into building homes for themselves and others. In return, they get an interest-free 30-year mortgage.

"And they'll pay back every penny we put in," Blake said, indicative of the high-quality residents the development will attract over the next four to five years.

That's the goal of Wells Fargo's philanthropy, part of the bank's $6 million investment nationwide this year in neighborhood stabilization programs run by 69 nonprofits, said Regional President Dee O'Donnell.

Upgrading the appearance of 5415 South is crucial to Kearns because it is the main route into its emerging community center, built around the Olympic speedskating oval, the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center and Kearns High School.

"Kearns is maturing. Kearns is turning into a world-class community," said state Rep. Eric Hutchings, a resident. "To improve our look and feel around here means a lot."

He lauded Salt Lake County for "putting its money where its words are" in funding development of the parkway at a time when Kearns residents showed their appreciation for county leadership by voting to become a metro township.

County Councilman Michael Jensen, whose district includes both Kearns and Magna, said he has no doubt the parkway will provide a "gateway into the heart of the community, a real asset."

County Sheriff Jim Winder added that benefits will be more than just aesthetic.

"People act better when their environment looks better," he said. "When pride increases, problems decrease. I know we'll continue to see this community prosper and blossom."